12-01-2021 by Marco "Sbringo" Bigi
A ray of sunlight filtered through the curtains of my bedroom window and woke me from a deeper sleep than usual. I lay there for a moment, enjoying the coolness of the fan and listening to the syncopated song of the turtle doves that had colonised the branches of the mango tree in the garden. I rubbed my eyes and glanced at the clock: "Almost ten o'clock," I babbled, "I'm late!"
I catapulted myself out of bed because I had a ten o'clock appointment at the bar with Sappe, who had recommended that I be on time because he wanted to introduce me to a dear friend.
Luckily, at the equator it doesn't take long to be ready to go out: a quick shower, a splash of deodorant, T-shirt and shorts and I was already in my Pajero, juggling the touc-tucs and motorbikes that crowded Lamu Road.
I arrived at the bar with the classic African quarter of an hour's delay and noticed a big man, sitting at the table with the Sappe, who got up from his chair to shake my hand, smiling and showing the very white teeth that only Africans can have.
He didn't look like a Giriama, and as I tried to guess from his considerable stature which other Kenyan tribe he belonged to, I noticed he was wearing a grey shirt with a typical ecclesiastical collar.
"Ric Giambo, Father Method," Sappe announced, adding to me, "ah, by the way, apart from running the Blessed Children Protestant Church in Malindi, he is Mama Karembo's husband.
I looked at him more carefully and said, "I didn't know Karembo was married.
Method burst out laughing: "Sometimes I have trouble remembering myself, I should be jealous of the Amani na Elimu Orphanage; Karembo is always there looking after the children, who are lovely by the way".
We sat down and ordered coffees, which not only woke me up for good, but also started a long conversation about Father Method's many activities.
I soon realised from the stories that Method and Karembo were made for each other and I had further confirmation that the Sappe had a soft spot for people who sacrifice their lives for good.
"Are you free tomorrow afternoon?" the Sappe asked me at one point in that tone that didn't anticipate a negative answer - he knew that, as usual, I was unlikely to be busy.
"For tomorrow's mass, Father Method needs you. Karisa, the keyboard player, has to go to her grandfather's funeral and needs someone to accompany the choir, I took the liberty of telling him that you are a pianist."
"I answered, a little taken aback by this question, but I don't know the pieces.
"Ah, no problem, they are all on this CD, they are not difficult and it shouldn't take you long to learn them. I stood open-mouthed with the CD in my hand as Father Method thanked me for being so helpful.
Sappe wasn't done yet: "Tomorrow's programme will be as follows: 3pm Mass, then we will attend a talk by Father Method at 5pm and at 7.30pm we are invited to dinner at their house, of course Mama Karembo cooks and get ready to enjoy!"
I stood up and, giving the military salute, said loudly "Aye aye Sergeant Hartman!" and pretended to march off heavily, triggering laughter from the Sappe and Father Method.
I spent the afternoon at home studying the tracks on the Blessed Children Church CD. They were simple gospel songs and I thought to myself that if the record hadn't been edited in the studio, the church choir might not be doing too badly.
This was confirmed the following afternoon during the rehearsal we had scheduled half an hour before the service.
The Blessed Children Church, located in the northern suburbs of Malindi, was a tin-roofed shed which suggested that during the rainy season the masses would not exactly be dry. About twenty boys and girls arrived on time and intimidatedly arranged themselves around the floor. To my surprise, after the piano began to play, they began to sing in full voice, in tune and not boisterous as I had often heard on Sundays in front of the countless places of worship in and around Malindi.
I had never attended an African mass before and it was a flood of memories for me because the situation reminded me of the masses I attended as a child, when I spent my long summer holidays at my aunt's in the Emilian countryside. There was a priest, Don Anselmo, who knew all those present by name, most of them peasants, and pointed them out one by one, listing all the sins he had seen them commit during the week: a collective earful.
Father Method had transfigured himself into a character with a powerful voice and a magnetic gaze that hinted, in Swahili I did not know, that it was time to repent of sins and praise the Lord. He then gave me a look, I started with a bluesy chord and the choir sang a wonderful gospel while the whole church clapped their hands in time and danced.
It had been a long time since I had felt the shivers down my spine like that Sunday.
When the service was over, I shook hands with all the choir members who begged me to give some lessons to Karisa, the keyboard player who, as I understood from the CD, still had a lot to learn. I promised I would.
The Sappe approached me and said, "This is the first time I've heard you play the piano, so you're really good!"
The Sappe's compliments were so rare that I was very proud of them.
"Now let's go and sit down, the lecture will start soon, luckily for you it will be in English so you will understand something.
"Good," I replied, "what's the topic?"
"Father Method is going to talk about sex."
"Oh yes, he's a forward thinker!"
And, indeed, the lecture was very interesting, especially for the evolution of a churchman's view of a subject ignored, if not condemned for centuries by clerical institutions. Father Method invited us to consider it as a gift of Providence to be savoured with caution, passion and love. Sex, he continued, must not be something to be consumed, it is not an object to be bought, used and thrown away, it must be the crystallisation of Love.
These were revolutionary speeches for a people who had always been accustomed to considering women as objects of property.
In this regard, the tone became more heated when the speaker, with statistics in hand, took stock of the situation in Kenya regarding early pregnancies: although decreasing, the number of pregnant young girls left to their own devices was still too high.
With a glance at the audience at the end of the lecture, I realised the great interest and participation of those present and interpreted it as a sign that the time was ripe to try to change things. Who better than a pastor, whose words are highly regarded by the faithful, to address these issues ...
The sunset, which always arrives at the equator by seven o'clock in the evening, painted its usual orange watercolours in the western sky as we found ourselves helping Father Method set up the chairs and close the church, and then joining Mama Karembo, who had spent the afternoon cooking for us.
Their house was not far away, we parked the Pajero in front of a block of flats overlooking a side street of Tsavo Road and crossed the threshold of their flat.
Karembo, as usual, smothered us in a hug, apologised for not coming to church but had stayed late at the orphanage and then rushed home to cook.
A boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and fifteen got up from a couch from which they were watching TV and came to greet us: Adele and John. I didn't know but I should have guessed that Mama Karembo had children, it is rare for a Kenyan woman not to have children.
Dinner was wonderful. Karembo had prepared, to begin with, chapati, lentil, vegetable and meat samosas, then a very tender kid with a side dish of vegetables never seen before, rice, sima... in short the dinner was delicious and in turn, everyone told anecdotes, first of all Sappe who, as we know, has lived nine lives like cats.
At the end of the meal Method got up and said 'I'm going to the kitchen to prepare the coffee: only I in this house am capable of making a decent cup of coffee', then, turning to the Sappe, 'do you want to come with me to choose the coffee killer? Do you know that my faithful give me so many bottles for Christmas that I don't know where to put them? I have a cupboard full of them".
And so while the two men moved to the kitchen, the boys went back to stand in front of the TV and, sitting at the table, it was left to me and Karembo who peered at my face carefully.
"How did you find it playing with our choir?" he asked.
"Very well, I was surprised to hear the boys so well in tune and above all... not loud. It's rare in these parts to hear music that isn't shouted, that isn't loud... I'll be back to see Father Method in his church, I've already been hired to give a few lessons to... what's the name of the pianist who was absent today?"
"Karisa. I'm very happy and thank you for your availability, my husband just got around to telling me that you are a very good musician."
"Oh, thank you, I'm actually a bit rusty, I should devote a little more time to music...".
A fat laugh rang out from the kitchen as Karembo took two cashew nuts from a bowl.
"And tell me," he continued, "how did the conference go?"
"A smashing success... Father Method was extraordinary, he showed great competence on the subject and was very convincing.
Karembo's brow furrowed in amazement: "Strange... he's only done this twice that I know of.
"Oh really? - I replied with some embarrassment as I turned to look at my sons - well, you have two fine young men... ».
Karembo moved his chair closer to mine and asked me in a confidential tone: "Do you want to know how it went?
I thought, maybe it is normal that the woman of a Protestant pastor should confess to a normal man, a lay mzungu...
"The first time... he threw up!"
"Oh my goodness! Eh well... actually, I can understand, in his situation, the spiritual formation...".
At that point curiosity overcame embarrassment.
"And the second one? Did it go a little better?"
"The second one... yes, it wasn't bad... something pulled up... but he lost his hat!"
I thought that was the way to understand the condom... but do you mean that in Kenya men of the cloth are allowed to use them? Maybe only Protestants? Anyway, they are way ahead of us in some things...
"...well... sometimes you lose it... I lost it once...".
"I'd show you... but he never found it again...".
"Ah yes... but I know them more or less..."
At that moment, to take me out of my pleasant but growing discomfort, Method and Sappe arrived from the kitchen, one with coffee and the other with a bottle of Rhum in his hand, and the evening continued with chatter and laughter and the subject of the conference, fortunately, was never touched upon again.
"Nice evening, isn't it?" the Sappe asked me as I started the engine of the Pajero.
"Fantastic, a worthy conclusion to an emotionally charged day," I replied, "there's just one thing that puzzled me..."
"While you were in the kitchen, Mama Karembo..."
"I can't really explain, first she asked me about the conference, then she started telling me strange things.... - at that point I thought the Sappe was going to stifle a laugh but I continued - ... she was surprised by the subject of the conference because, as far as she knows, Father Method has only done it twice: the first time he vomited and the second time he lost his hat!
At that point the Sappe, with tears in his eyes, could not hold back a roaring laugh that prevented him from speaking, then, panting, he said to me: "Ahaha, that's fantastic, ahaha!".
"What's so funny?" I asked a little annoyed.
He caught his breath from laughing so hard and continued, "Now I'll explain everything. When we were in the kitchen, Father Method told me that the last time he and his wife saw each other was four days ago, they were both very busy with each other's commitments and it was only yesterday that they spoke on the phone for a minute before Method started the conference. When Karembo asked him what the topic of the speech was he, partly out of shame, partly because there was no time to explain the details, to cut it short told her the first thing that came to his mind."
"That the topic of the conference was Deep Sea Fishing!"
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